Syrian Chemical Weapons Destruction: Update 8

According to the Italian news source, ANSAMed, two rockets have hit the Syrian port of Latakia this week.  Two shipments of chemicals were supposed to leave the port city on 9 March, but only one has made it thus far due to the reported rocket attack.  While the article claims this has been verified by the OPCW, the attacks have not been noted on the OPCW website, which has not been updated since last week.  This alleged delay in transferring the chemicals out of Syria is the latest in a series of delays due to the Assad regime’s security concerns.

Last week, the OPCW received a proposal to postpone the deadlines to transport the chemicals out of Syria by 100 days.  In the original agreement, Syrian chemicals were supposed to all have been shipped out of the port of Latakia by 3 February; however, by the end of February, only about a third of the chemicals had left the country.  On Thursday, 13 March, a Russian official stated that there should be no problem with Syria removing the chemicals for destruction by 13 April.  However, a U.S. State Department spokesman said that, while there had been a recent push, Syria was at risk of missing the 30 June 2014 deadline of having all the chemicals out of its territory and neutralized on board the MV Cape Ray.  Spokesman Jen Psaki said there was still a chance of the Syrian chemicals being eliminated by the deadline, but it was increasingly unlikely in light of the recent Syrian shipment delays.

Syria is also likely to miss the 15 March deadline to destroy the 12 chemical production facilities it declared to the OPCW back in October 2013.  According to an official involved in the process, there are seven aircraft hangers and five underground facilities that have yet to be destroyed.

Protests across the Mediterranean region have picked up over the plan to destroy the chemicals via hydrolysis aboard the MV Cape Ray.  On Sunday, 9 March, over 2,000 people demonstrated on the Greek island of Crete to protest against the chemicals’ destruction in the Mediterranean.  Greenpeace Greece executive director Nikos Charalambides remarked that while the UN was offering assurances that there would be no chemical dumping in the Mediterranean, there was still very little information about where the effluent would go at the end of the process.  Thus far, the U.S., the UK, Finland, and Germany have offered to destroy some of the precursor chemicals and effluent on their territories.  In addition to the protests on Crete, Labour MEP from Malta Joseph Cuschieri has written an op-ed in The Times of Malta urging the European Commission to fight for the destruction to take place outside of the Mediterranean.

In the face of these growing public and governmental concerns, Green Cross International and its Italian national affiliate, Green Cross Italy, have been working with the OPCW and UN on a public forum on the destruction process in the Mediterranean, tentatively scheduled for 16 April in Rome, Italy.  While both the UN and OPCW agree that there should be more transparency regarding the hydrolysis process aboard the Cape Ray, neither multilateral organization has been willing to fund such an outreach effort.  The Green Cross public dialogue/forum in Rome would be an attempt to address public concerns and fears about the potential risks of chemical weapons destruction in the Mediterranean, including impacts on tourism and fisheries.  While it is a violation of the Law of the Sea Treaty to sea-dump chemicals, there have been no public statements clarifying this will not happen, nor have any countries offered to accept liability if such an accident does occur.   The US is considering holding one or more private tours of the MV Cape Ray in Rota, Spain for government officials, NGOs, and the media.  The Cape Ray is waiting in Rota for all chemicals to be removed from Syria by Danish and Norwegian ships, not likely before the end of April, before it leaves to pick up the chemicals in Gioia Tauro, Italy.